The Chicago White Sox’s powerful lineup centers around the bats of first baseman Paul Konerko and designated hitter Adam Dunn. Thanks to the Astros moving to the American League and forcing at least one interleague series into the schedule at all times, the White Sox have already had to face that fateful question: what do you do without the DH?
In a three-game set this week against the Nationals, Robin Ventura elected to keep Konerko at first for all three contests. In game one against lefty Gio Gonzalez, Ventura benched Dunn and kept regular left fielder Dayan Viciedo in the lineup. In the final two contests, the White Sox faced Jordan Zimmermann and Dan Haren — both right-handed pitchers — and so Dunn found himself back in his old stomping grounds, left field.
Call it Dunn’s Gambit. When Dunn was the top Southern League prospect back in 2001, Baseball America said, “His defense at the corner outfield positions need some work, but he displayed good mobility and improved arm strength.” By the time he was playing for the Nationals, at age 29 in 2009, said mobility was gone. It didn’t take advanced stats to tell you he was awful, but they didn’t hurt — multiple metrics rated him the worst outfielder in the majors despite playing less than a half season’s worth of innings.
They’re saying it’s worth it to get his .248/.383/.524 career line into against right-handers into the lineup, and they’re probably right. Viciedo, the alternative, is a “substandard” fielder himself, again via Baseball America, and he hit a putrid .225/.271/.380 against right-handers last year. A bad defensive misplay could easily cost the White Sox a run or more, but they can reasonably bet they’ll get it back with the bat.
Dunn was hardly tested defensively in the series, and he went 1-for-9 at the plate with a double and 2 RBI as the White Sox lost both games by three runs apiece. The decision didn’t seem to make much of a difference yet, but as more teams are confronted with offense and defense trade-offs throughout the year-long interleague play, you can bet we’ll see one matter at some point.
Here’s a relatively thorough list of potential terrible defenders we could see throughout the year: David Ortiz at first base for the Red Sox, Mark Trumbo at third base or left field for the Angels, Lance Berkman at first base and Mitch Moreland in the outfield for Texas, Kendrys Morales in the outfield for Seattle (he’s been out there 17 times in his career, with no starts), Billy Butler at first base for the Royals (and Eric Hosmer to right field if they really want to get weird), Ryan Doumit in the outfield for Minnesota, Luke Scott in the outfield for Tampa Bay (they played Brandon Allen in left field three games last year), and my personal favorite, Brett Wallace at shortstop (he played nine games there in the minors last year).
Some of these might be a little far-fetched (especially that last one, but hey, Wallace has already played third base once in an American League game, so anything is possible). But when they do happen, I’ll be watching. The spectacular offense and suspenseful defense — whether comically bad or stunningly good — these players offer speaks directly to my baseball-watching soul.